As a kid I grew up with the American space program. It all started with Sputnik, and when JFK was in office, he really upped the ante in the space race, declaring that we would land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Unfortunately, he didn’t live to see his promise fulfilled. From the early sixties through that moon landing, it seemed like we were constantly sending men into space (alas, no women at that time). First the Mercury, then the Apollo missions.
Then we switched gears and developed the Space Shuttle, the Space Station, the Hubble Telescope and the exploratory missions to Mars, other planets and beyond the solar system. We’ve had successes and failures (Challenger and Columbia), but overall the space program has become somewhat less exciting than it was in the sixties. Maybe it was the novelty, maybe it was my youth. Watching big cargo ships lumber up to the space station just doesn’t seem as exciting as watching John Glenn orbit the earth, or sitting on the edge of my seat when Apollo 13 almost failed. Does anyone else yearn for that Wild West feel of the old space program, the sense that we were crossing boundaries we’d never see again?
Maybe that will change.
This past week NASA shot off the first test launch of the Ares I-X prototype rocket. Looking at the pictures accompanying this article about the test launch, I feel a small sense of the wonder and majesty I experienced watching the space program as a child. Seeing a new rocket being tested for future space shots is just a tad bit spine tingling, but I’ve always been somewhat of a science geek.
NASA is also working on a new vehicle to land on the moon again, the Altair Lunar Lander. This ship will be launched on the Ares V rocket, a few generations from the Aries I-X prototype. Right now they are shooting for a moon landing in 2020.
This might actually give the little boy in me a chance to re-live his youth.